On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Confusion and Clarity

This is a journal entry from the day before my brother Jim arrived to move Mom and Dad to their new home. After caring for them in my home for six years, I reached the point of “I can’t do this anymore.” (See my August 8th post) After my come-apart, Jim found a lovely assisted living facility near him in Arkansas. As always, to avoid undue anxiety for everybody, I waited until the last minute to tell them of the impending changes.

December 7, 2010     

My life is about to change – a lot! Today my son instant messaged me, asking how I felt about it.

“Are you feeling relieved, anxious, survivor’s guilt?”

“Yes. All of the above.”

I went to Wal-Mart a few days ago and got really choked up, almost to the point of hyper-ventilating. Maybe it was the package of Depends I picked up.

This is probably the last package of these I’ll have to buy. I wonder how Mom will react to a stranger changing her underwear.

Maybe it was the vitamins I put in the basket for David and me.

I won’t have to buy and sort Mom and Dad’s medications any more. That will be Jim’s job, or the job of another stranger. What if they don’t do it right. I hope they check to be sure Dad doesn’t drop some of his pills on the floor and that they give Mom her pills a few at a time so she doesn’t chew them. I’m not sure I can go through with this. But I’m sure I can’t NOT go through with it.

I told Mom and Dad at dinner tonight what was happening. Dad listened attentively and then said nothing. Mom listened and then screwed up her face as if she was about to cry.

“But I don’t want to go with Jim.”

“It’ll be fine, Mom. He’s your son. You stayed with him in September when we went toMissouri, and you had a great time.”

“I guess,” she said. She wasn’t convinced.

“You’ll have a nice apartment close to Jim, and he’ll come visit you and check on you.”

“I have an apartment by Mama,” she said.

“No, it’s by Jim,” I said without thinking.

“Mama!” she said.

“No, it’s by Jim.”

“MAMA!”

I’m slow, but I finally got the message and let it go. I sat for a few more minutes, waiting for more reaction. When none came, I breathed a sigh of relief and went into the kitchen to do the dishes. I felt a little guilty for not asking if they had question or encouraging them to express their feelings, but the relief was strong, and it chased the guilt away.

Dad was oblivious and went about his usual task of putting away the placemats, but Mom was agitated. She watched me more closely than usual, and when she brought the glasses from the table to the counter, she hovered. When Dad finished his job, he headed for the wing chair to the left of the couch, and Mom followed his example and made her way to the overstuffed chair opposite him. Her butt couldn’t have done more than brush the microfiber surface of the seat before she was standing in the kitchen again, drilling me with a purposeful stare. I sensed a bad session of sundowner’s coming on.

“What do you need?” I said.

I can’t possibly reproduce on paper the series of sounds that proceeded from her mouth as she struggled to convey her thoughts. Somewhere in the gibberish, I heard the word pay as she gestured toward the leftovers I was putting away, and I assumed she was dealing with a familiar concern.

“Are you worried about paying for your dinner?”

Her body language indicated I was on the right track.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s been taken care of.”

Her look spoke volumes. I wanted to do something nice by picking up the check. Why won’t you let me?

“Mom, you and Dad pay for half of the groceries, so you’ve already paid for it.”

“I guess that works,” she said in real words.

She returned to her chair, and I returned to the dishes. Silence fell over the room. All I could hear was the tick of the timer on the table lamp and the occasional click of David’s mouse. That and the nagging caregiver’s guilt.

“Dad, did you have any questions about what’s happening?”

“No, no questions.”

The silence returned for a couple of minutes.

“I guess I do have one question. What’s happening?”

I waited until the last minute to tell them, because I knew they would either forget or worry, but I expected them to retain the info for more than 10 minutes. After I explained again the changes that were coming, I finished the dishes, David went back to his computer, and Mom and Dad contemplated whatever random thoughts chased each other across their minds. When I finished, I joined the rest of the family in the living room and settled down to read.

“So, you and David are moving back to Texas,” Dad said after a few minutes.

“Yes, eventually. But we’re going to travel around the country for a while.”

“What are you going to do with your furniture?” he said.

“We’ll put it in storage until we settle down.”

That was all the questions. Nothing about how they would care for an apartment and themselves after years of living under my constant supervision. No worries about how their furniture would be moved and who would foot the bill for the move and the new “apartment.” With no further questions and no TV to distract them, the nightly ritual soon began. Mom did whatever a wife of almost 70 years does to catch the eye of her husband. Through mouthed words and various gestures, she communicated her message, and when she received the desired answer, she turned to me.

“I think we’re going to bed,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, glancing up from my book.

“I guess that’s okay with you.”

“Sure,” I said, too absorbed in my reading to catch the undertone at first, the one that said You’ll be glad to get rid of us. As her unspoken message penetrated, I looked up with a reassuring smile.

“Come on. I’ll help you put on your nightgown.”

We went through the routine of undressing, slipping into a pink satiny gown she insisted was too pretty to wear, and making one last visit to the bathroom. We hugged, kissed, and exchanged I love yous. Then, while she crawled under the covers, I went to the other side of the bed where Dad sat with his shirt unbuttoned, waiting for me to leave so he could finish undressing. We performed a more restrained version of the hug-kiss-love-you dance, and I turned out the overhead light, leaving them in the soft glow of the night light.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” I said.

“Okay,” Dad said.

Mom raised up on one elbow, clutching the covers under her chin. “Because we won’t hardly ever see you anymore,” she said.

Sometimes her moments of clarity are as heartbreaking as her moments of confusion.

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Comments on: "Confusion and Clarity" (10)

  1. My parents are aging. I dread the day when I have to face these type of difficult decisions but so thankful I will have wonderful people like you to read and rely on during that crucial phase. (visiting from (in)courage)

    • Hi Shannon,
      Thanks so much for visiting and for you sweet comment. Sharing my experiences and knowing they are encouraging to others is healing for me. Come back any time.
      Blessings,
      Linda

  2. OK. This is a little much! We just found out dad has had many strokes and his memory is not going to get any better. We just pray it does not get any worse. I wish I lived closer to my parents so I could do more for them.
    You are awesome to have had the privilege of taking care of your mom and dad for as long as you did.
    God bless and I love you.

    • Hi Peggy,
      One of my FB friends said this post was “piercing.” I’ll try to lighten up a bit on my next one.
      I’m so sorry to hear about your dad and pray along with you that he won’t get any worse.
      I don’t know how awesome I am, but it was an honor and a privilege to take care of them.
      I miss you and love you, too.
      Blessings,
      Linda

  3. yep, good stuff. Don’t hold back; this is the kind of stuff that stirs the soul.

    But yeah, tempering it with a funny post here and there is probably good medicine 🙂

    Love
    CDP

  4. I think writing things down is good therapy for you and also us the readers as we know we are not alone in the hard decisions we have to make for our families,Thank you and God’s Blessings Liz

    • Liz, it is great therapy for me, and if in the process, someone finds comfort and permission to peel back the facade of strength and admit how hard and heartbreaking caregiving is, I am doubly blessed. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

  5. This is beautiful, Linda. Beautiful souls all around.

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